While perusing Twitter, I saw this piece pop up: “Is #MilTwitter Worth It?” Since I often ask myself that same question, I clicked on the link and read the author’s thoughts. He points out – rightly, in some cases – that Twitter can be a bit of dumpster fire. And MilTwitter an especially smelly dumpster fire. He then asks why public affairs professionals dip their toes into Twitter’s murky waters. Why bother sullying the professionalism by participating in this space, he asks? Why do general officers get involved here? In short – shouldn’t we be better?
Pretty good questions, all of them.
Okay, I’ll bite.
Those that know me know that I think that this latest round of cliques and clannishness that calls itself #MilTwitter – formerly #NatSecTwitter – is often tiresome. You’ve got different groups (Note: this is not an all-inclusive list) – the doctrine geeks, the SOP comparers, the history nerds, the thirsty field grades, officer hair twitter, the perennial alcoholics, the overtly political (in both camps), the goody two-shoes, the snarky company grades (represent), the jaded NCOs, the think tankers, tank twitter, the SOF people and their groupies, the ones that take themselves too seriously, and the public affairs officers (yes, they get their own group). And everyone who lives in mortal terror of General Abrams asking us what unit we belong to, which is basically all of us.
My point being, it is a very wide and diverse group of individuals. It’s almost like a microcosm of the military, which is itself a microcosm of society.
Now, we don’t all get along. By any means. Sometimes, things get stupid, which is why I would highly recommend the discovery of the unfollow, mute, and block buttons. They can do wonders for one’s mental health. Twitter is the place that you make of it.
So, why are we all here? Well, probably because most of us have found some group that we identify with – some individuals who have enriched our lives in some way. Or maybe we’ve found it useful for professional development. Maybe we’ve often wondered if there were others out there who shared our way of thinking. Whatever the reason, Twitter offers a platform for an extension of dialogue. That dialogue can be as snarky, as professional, as distasteful, or as cheerful as the user would like it to be, by curating their own little corner of Twitter.
There’s another reason to be on Twitter – the oh-so-famous civilian-military divide. Social media is an avenue of connecting the two parts of society. It is a place to exchange ideas, discourse, and to break down stereotypes. I see it happen daily in my own Twitter timeline.
Why are leaders on Twitter? It’s because that’s where their people are. That’s where dialogue is. That’s where people can speak their minds openly, without fear of toxic leadership slamming down on them. It’s the world’s largest command climate survey, the widest open door policy you’ve ever seen, and an IG’s fever dream. It airs the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is an example of the military of a Republic – sharing ideas, some good, some bad. But sharing those ideas freely, within our left and right limits.
And since sharing ideas is fully within the lanes of public affairs officers, I think they almost have to be engaged on Twitter – it’s where the dialogue exists. Instead of being focused on their own little lane, they can cast their focus in a broad net over the entire force, see how others communicate, and find out what techniques they can adopt for their own use. It’s a giant “lessons learned in communications” panel, running on a sometimes soul-crushing 24/7 loop.
Aside from all that, Twitter offers us a chance to stop taking ourselves so seriously. And while I’ve written about this before, I don’t think I can say it better than Caroline Bechtel in her inaugural post for War on the Rocks, “A New Era of Military Comedy from the Ranks.” In her closing paragraph, she states:
“Respect for military service is warranted. Even if a soldier never deploys, to work for the military requires the burden of relocation every three years or so, many late nights and early mornings, and frequent family separation for various training. But there is a fine line between respect and worship. On my deployment, I received an overwhelming amount of care packages and notes from schoolchildren. While I am deeply grateful for this generosity, it also made me feel guilty and misunderstood. (If only the senders could see how much coconut water I mailed to myself via Amazon…) I didn’t need care packages, but I did want to laugh with people who understood my situation. For this reason, I appreciated Duffel Blog’s Afghanistan commentary more than anything.”
This right here – wanting to laugh with people who understand our situation – is probably the main reason that I personally remain on Twitter.
MilTwitter has its issues – toxicity, egoism, too many posts about tanks (kidding, kidding), people using it as a dating app, groupthink, echo chambers – but those exist in all parts of society and they’re no reason to duck out of it. For all of its flaws and failings, MilTwitter remains an open forum. Like the forums of the Roman Empire, it’s dirty, noisy, and probably heading towards being overrun by the Ostrogoths. But it’s also a clearing house for information, a place to go and share ideas, and where you might meet some friends.
So while I’ll probably regret saying this later on today when I get dragged into some debate over which Star Wars fighter/fighter-bomber was the best, I would hazard that, yes, Virginia, MilTwitter, or whatever we’re calling it, is still worth it.
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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.
Cover photo courtesy Pexels